Summertime And The Livin’ Is Easy*

It’s a nice song, but actually, the living isn’t all that easy!   OH the weeds!!  And OH how many tasks await our next spurt of energy and block of time; mulching the vegetables, dead-heading wilted blooms, scrubbing and refilling the bird baths, weeding and more weeding.  The seeds for next year’s perennials went in last week — right on time, which is most unusual for me.   Hopefully, I’ll soon have little transplants of delphinium, columbine, brown-eyed Susans, holly hawks and several perennial herbs.   I also replanted a few seeds that had apparently succumbed to the long wet period in May and June.  The “easy livin’” part is sitting in a lawn chair, taking time for iced tea, lemonade and just enjoying the sunshine and bird song.

Some very hard parts of this summer’s living, not involving physical labor, are the questions that have arisen when we attended a funeral for a young mother, when we are praying for a small child has an incurable brain tumor, when young persons are in such despair that they decide life really isn’t worth living, when people continue to be cruel, power-hungry or just uncaring.  Humans will, I think, be asking these questions as long as life exists.  The next question then becomes, how can each of us offer antidotes; how can we bring healing, hope and compassion to those in our circles of influence?  Kahlil Gibran** says: “When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.”  Since I play the flute, I can readily understand this metaphor.  We can all contribute to harmony regardless of whether we are playing a flute, tuba or plying tongs and hammer or a paint brush.  It takes awareness on our part.

The last two weeks, while difficult, have held some very good times too.  One of our sons was here for over a week, which was lovely and our granddaughters and daughter-in-law came along for a few days; always a fun time for which we are grateful.   We are looking forward to a family wedding tomorrow which includes an overnight.  In our young and foolish days, we’d have gone to the wedding and returned home in the wee hours of the morning.  I remember well one weekend at Cornell when several of us drove all the way to a dance on Oneida Lake and then back to Cornell after the dance was over, singing on the way.   Currently our energy is less, we get sleepy earlier, and find that singing between yawns isn’t all that energizing anymore.  So we’ll stay over and enjoy a leisurely trip home.  Of course when we get back, there will be a rush to help with the Inspire basket raffle and clean up at the end of Spencer Picnic.

Spencer Picnic is one of those Old Home Days/Carnival events that bring the residents of small towns together.   There are contests for Little Miss and Mr. and teenage Miss and Mr., where parents may watch their adorable small children or their poised teenagers become royalty for the duration of the event, getting to ride in an open car in the parade on Saturday.   There is the expected yummy, mostly-unhealthy food, music and camaraderie.  We used to have a community band that rode a hay wagon furnished with folding chairs and music stands.  It was slightly hazardous and haphazard, but a totally fun way to play the marches to which the majorettes and Scout troops kept time as the parade moved down Main Street.  I’m not sure about the tempo of the horses.

Another recent community offering was the AARP drivers’ course that we took in June.  If we are able to sit through two consecutive half- days of review, every three years, our insurance is lowered by 10%.  It can be a bit tedious, but our instructor was actually quite good.     In one of the breaks, he happened to mention two or three late-night TV programs he watches because he doesn’t sleep well.   Since we also often find ourselves wide-eyed at two AM, I suggested that with all the people who have sleeping issues, we could have a party.   Of course, being up in the middle of the night doesn’t guarantee a party mood.  In fact, lack of sleep puts me in a rather surly mood.

Sleep is one of those things that we take lightly, especially when we are younger, but lack of it will catch up with us in serious ways according to the two physicians I was hearing in a seminar.  Sleep allows our brain time to process, it is when cells regenerate and it keeps us thinking more clearly for the next day.  Lack of sleep impacts organ health, blood pressure, heart health and the immune system.  They mentioned that using electronic devices late into the night or even having them in the bedroom, suppresses the very melatonin that we need for sleeping.  So a TV in the bedroom, keeping a lighted digital clock next to the bed or having one’s phone there overnight is not a good idea.  Other suggestions to improve sleep time were: a) exercising during the day (but not just before bed), b) avoiding any heavy snacks right before bed, c) foregoing exciting shows on TV just before bedtime d)  winding down with quiet music or reading and then e)  meditating or praying before falling into one’s pillow.  Most of these would mean changing some ingrained behaviors, but perhaps, for a good night’s sleep, we might consider creating a new bedtime regimen.  Remember – it takes 6 weeks to substitute one habit for another habit so that it feels natural.

One of our personal summer fun times is the picnic for professional 4-H retirees.   This group is an absolute joy because of all the stories.  Even if we didn’t actually work together, we share common experiences; camp, fairs, working with kids, the NYS Fair, dress revues, public presentations, and dealing with county and NYS government.   Most people at the picnic were, at one time, part of Cornell Cooperative Extension, but several have worked in other states either before or after their time in New York.  I worked with 4-H in Maryland and Kerm began in NYS but then worked in a four-county program in Pennsylvania for ten years before coming back to NY.  The interesting part of our get-together is that people in this group, retired though they are, do not sit home and twiddle their thumbs or rock life away.  Everyone has strong interests from travel to gardening to writing to volunteering for other non-profits or finding new careers, and we enjoy hearing the narratives of what is going on in people’s lives.  To keep current, the picnic always includes some younger people who are still working in similar programs.  It is reassuring to know that each one teach one is still happening and — hopefully —- spreading.

July is an abundant month.  It begins with bursting fireworks and continues to explode with color in the natural world.  Along the roadside, there is periwinkle-blue chicory mingled with pale golden cow parsnips and the white wheels of Queen Anne’s Lace.  Elderberries show lacy flowers on drooping stems.   One impressive plant comes with a warning; giant Hog Weed.  This plant is infecting more and more roadsides and scrub areas.  It stands VERY tall — 8 to12 feet, with a blossom similar to Queen Anne’s Lace only larger, and exudes a sap that can inflict permanent burn scars.  If the sap gets into the eyes, it can cause blindness.   I’m not sure why the spreading is so rampant, but try to avoid anything similar to my description.   Actually, any plant that is juicy with sap should be handled cautiously until you see how your skin reacts.  “Bouncing Bet” (soapwort) is another July bloomer in the wild.  It is a pale pink and has a delicate and lovely fragrance.   I suppose if you run out of soap, you could go through the process of creating suds from its leaves and roots.  Wild Bergamot adds a deeper pink to the landscape and all too soon we’ll be looking fall-ish with Brown-eyed Susans and golden rod.  

While the roadsides are flaunting the abundance of summer, the weeds in my garden are thriving.  In fact, if anyone wishes to do a weed ID project, here would be a good place to collect.  But summer is a time to be enjoyed and savored as young Calvin said: “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy —- let’s go exploring!”*** That’s what I hope we all have a chance to do on these lovely summer days.  Schedule the weed-pulling for another day and take some time for the wonders summer has to offer.


Carol may be reached at:

*”Summertime” —-song composed by George Gershwin as an aria for “Porgy and Bess

**Kahlil Gibran—- Lebanese artist, poet, writer.  1881931

***from Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Waterson*

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